Fishing is all about being in the right place at the right time and having a little bit of luck on your side.
D’Ernest Johnson had all those things going for him as he caught on with the Cleveland Browns during training camp and now looks like a shoe-in for a roster spot when cuts come.
Maybe it was the lessons Johnson learned while working on a fishing boat waiting for an NFL bite that put him in the right spot to succeed.
Johnson was undrafted out of the University of Southern Florida, where he rushed 421 times for 1,796 yards and 16 touchdowns in four seasons. He got an invite to the New Orleans Saints rookie camp but didn’t make the team, leading him to look for a job as he waiting on a chance from an NFL team.
That’s where a reel and rod came into the picture.
“I have a friend of mine, he’s a private fisherman,” Johnson told the Browns official site. “He said ‘come down here to the Key West and I can help you out with some money and fishing and stuff.'”
Johnson obliged and spent the year fishing for mahi mahi. However, his hunger for football still remained.
“Every time I’m on the fishing boat, I’m like ‘dang, man, I miss football,'” Johnson said. “I had to do something just to make some money, you know?”
Persistence, AAF Stint Paid of For D’Ernest Johnson
A call would eventually come for Johnson, but in the Alliance of American Football — also known as the AAF. He started six games for the Orlando Apollos, rushing for 372 yards and two touchdowns. But when the league unexpectedly folded, he was again searching for work on the gridiron.
This time, however, he wouldn’t have to wait as long. Johnson and fellow Apollos’ alum QB Garrett Gilbert both ended up earning training camp spots with the Browns and both have done their part to earn a real look at a roster spot.
“I felt like (the AAF) was a great opportunity for players like myself who have been out of football for a long time and just want to be able to put on good film for NFL teams so you can get back to the NFL because that’s where you gotta go to get back to the NFL,” Johnson said. “Like I said, it’s a better opportunity to play the game that you love. I felt like the league was pretty great for players like me and other guys like Garrett.”
D’Ernest Johnson Has Capitalized on Playing Time With Browns
Johnson had some good fortune to be able to shine. Running backs Kareem Hunt, Duke Johnson and Dontrell Hilliard were all ahead of Johnson on the depth chart. But injuries and the trade of Duke Johnson to the Houston Texans opened up an opportunity for Johnson, who even started last week against the Colts in Browns second preseason game with Hillard banged up.
Johnson had 10 carries for 53 yards for a nice 5.3 average, looking explosive on his runs. He also caught a touchdown in the first half from Gilbert and had three grabs in all for 36 yards.
“He’s got a great opportunity in front of him,” head coach Freddie Kitchens said. “These next four days and two games. You know, you don’t ever know where they’re gonna come from. You never know who’s gonna show up. … We’ve got several guys like that. Some of them get advertised and some of them don’t, but you never know.”
With Hunt slated to miss eight games with a suspension, there’s a good shot that Johnson and Hilliard will be the two running backs the Browns keep to spell starter Nick Chubb when he needs it.